Nongrum’s fate on contempt of court case rests with Divisional Bench
Shillong: The High Court of Meghalaya on Tuesday referred the contempt of court proceedings against CEM, KHADC, Adelbert Nongrum for challenging the High Court order stripping the Rangbah Shnong of powers to run “parallel Government” after the accused appeared to be only half apologetic about the contemptuous remarks against the judiciary.
Justice SR Sen, who had delivered the landmark ruling which left the tribal community rattled, asked Nongrum if he had indeed challenged the Court ruling to which Nongrum replied in the affirmative.
The KHADC CEM then stated that he had made the impugned statement at a public function on December 30 last at the unveiling of the statue of U Kiang Nangbah. “I was very emotional because I am seriously concerned about my beloved indigenous institutions,” a visibly agitated Nongrum said.
To this Justice Sen remarked that he too was born and brought up in Meghalaya. “When we were growing up the Rangbah Shnong never issued NOCs. Today we need an NOC for opening a bank account, for electricity connection, for land transactions etc. Tomorrow even to take a breath we will need an NOC. Rangbah Shnong cannot take a decision that goes against the Constitution. Tradition is one thing but customary practice evolves. You have no business to challenge the higher judiciary of the State. Don’t equate the judiciary with government departments. The judiciary is autonomous. Judges are not sitting here to do a favour or to disfavour anyone but to deal out justice,” Justice Sen remarked.
Reading out from newspaper reports before a packed court room, Justice Sen asked the CEM what is the “hidden agenda” that he has been talking about vis-à-vis the ruling to which Nongrum raised his voice stating that the Court should have consulted the KHADC on this sensitive issue, more so since the KHADC had already passed the Village Administration Bills. “This is a sensitive issue and you have not given us an opportunity to be heard,” Nongrum shot back in a raised voice.
Not expecting such a response, Justice Sen cautioned Nongrum not to take political mileage out of this case. “Are you above the Courts? If Jayalalitha can go to jail then who are you? You have shown disrespect to the Court and although you have submitted an affidavit with a written apology your voice is not submissive. You have shaken the confidence of the people in the judiciary. As such your apology is not acceptable,” Justice Sen asserted.
Justice Sen quoted relevant portions from a Supreme Court case ruling to bring home the point that in a contempt of case hearing mere submission of a written apology without conviction was not acceptable to the court. He concluded that since the case is lying in appeal before the Division Bench of the Meghalaya High Court he is forwarding his submission to the Division Bench but not after stating, “A Judge who has been scandalized cannot take a lenient or indulgent view of the matter. This would sound the death knell of institutions like the judiciary. ”
Taking umbrage over the unwarranted public response to the contempt of court case, Justice Sen directed the CBI and state police to enquire as to who is responsible for instigating a situation where law and order was sought to be compromised leading the District Administration to impose Section 144 CrPC. He asked the State Police to lend its full cooperation in the investigation.
Earlier, Nongrum who was represented by senior counsel, H Thangkhiew, sought permission of the Court to speak in Khasi stating that he could express himself better. This was denied to him since the court conducts its business in English only.
There was a sizeable presence of sympathizers of Nongrum outside the court. Although section 144 Cr PC was in force, there were repeated slogans in support of the CEM from the crowd. There was no untoward incident.
Justice SR Sen also dropped the contempt charges against the editors of The Shillong Times and The Meghalaya Times who had reported the matter, stating, “You are performing your journalistic duties.”